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Wine Maker Prefers to Wait for Right Age


Ours is a world more and more bent on instant gratification, and the world of fine wines reflects the trend. People are less willing to wait years while wines mature, and many producers, hoping for a quick return on their money, are only too happy to oblige by making wines that mature sooner--even if it's at the expense of quality.

There are some holdouts, however. French wine maker Gerard Jaboulet of Paul Jaboulet Aine, whose wines were the focus of a dinner and tasting last week at the Hotel Meridien in Newport Beach, knows that patience is required for the enjoyment of wine at its best, and he refuses to compromise.

"We are very old-fashioned," Jaboulet admitted with a chuckle. "Some people don't like to wait so long, but some of our wines may continue to improve for more than 50 years. And we will continue to make them that way.

"But in fact, the trend (toward wines made for earlier consumption) is bad, and it's not bad. Many prefer to drink wine young and simple. And it's a good thing the market for wine for (aging) is limited. If every one of the millions of wine lovers in the United States wanted even one bottle of Chateau Margaux . . . !"

Jaboulet had cited one of the great wines of the Bordeaux region, yet he produces wines from the Rhone Valley, the largest wine-producing region in France after Bordeaux.

He explained that the Rhone is divided into two regions. The northern Rhone wines, of which Hermitage, which represents the oldest vineyard in France, is the best known, use only one grape, the Syrah , brought to France by the Phoenicians around 5 BC. The South, where Chateauneuf-du-Pape is the most celebrated wine, uses 13 different kinds of grapes. All but 2% of Rhone wines are red.

The wine maker says his wines bear only a very distant relation to the Jaboulet Vercherre wines often seen here. "That is a cousin of mine from six generations ago," he said. "He is in Beaune, we are in the Rhone." (Beaune is the wine center of Burgundy.)

Jaboulet brought eight wines from the Rhone for tasting. To complement them, Meridien executive chef Roland Muller created a rather special menu including langoustinos with caviar butter, veal sweetbreads with cepe mushrooms, double lamb chops filled with foie gras in light tarragon juice and goat cheese roasted with thyme.

The standout among the wines--included were examples from the 1983 and 1984 vintages of St. Joseph, Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Croze Hermitage and a rare sweet wine, Muscat des Beaumes de Venise--was the 1983 Hermitage La Chapelle.

(The hotel originally planned to serve the 1984 Hermitage, but nobody complained when the 1983 was poured instead: Jaboulet considers '83 one of the four best vintages of the century.)

Speaking about the wine's longevity, Jaboulet said the 1929 Hermitage is peaking now, and estimates that it will be 50 years before the currently available '84 reaches its peak. He did admit, however, that a 1924 he recently found at an auction was "almost past" its peak.

According to Jaboulet, the Hermitage wine is often mistaken in blind tastings for a Chateau Latour, which, like Chateau Margaux, is considered one of the top growths of Bordeaux.

"I live at Hermitage, and I make the mistake myself half the time," he said.

Jaboulet believes that the making of an oenophile follows a definite pattern.

"It's the same everywhere," he said. "People start with Lancers and Mateus. They go on to a little white wine, via Liebfraumilch. They start to learn red wine with Beaujolais primeur. Finally, they go up from there."

Beaujolais primeur is the first wine from Beaujolais to be released each vintage and is intended for immediate consumption. Finesse plays little part in the enjoyment of these wines.

"The United States is now booming in Beaujolais primeur, " Jaboulet said. "It's also booming in Japan right now. But these are young markets for red wine. You'll see, in 10 years they'll change their mind. In England, a very old market, they stopped drinking this wine long ago."

The Jaboulet tasting and dinner, for which 60 people had paid $60, followed the same format as will the Hotel Meridien's soon-to-begin "Vintage Dinners," dedicated to California wine makers and scheduled on alternate Tuesdays. Chef Muller will create five-course dinners, at the same cost, to enhance the tasting of five to eight wines. A champagne and hors d'oeuvres reception will be included.

On the series will be:

- April 29: Jack Jaeger, Rutherford Hill.

- May 13: Michael Weiss, Vichon.

- May 27: John Kongsgaard, Newton.

- June 10: Nils Venge, Groth.

- June 24: David Whithouse, Trefethen.

- July 8: Jim Allen, Sequoia Grove.

In other news from the Meridien, Bernard Jacoupy stepped down as president of the Biltmore Hotel earlier this month to become the Newport Beach hotel's new general manager; he is the Bernard for whom Bernard's, one of the finest dining rooms in Los Angeles, is named. Bruno Cirino, chef de cuisine at Restaurant Antoine, has been chosen as Chef of the Year by the Southern California Restaurant Writers Assn.

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